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For Henri Bergson, laughter is what keeps us elastic and free

Conditions for laughter to thrive

Henri Bergson's general observations related to when laughter is most likely to appear and thrive:

  • The comic is strictly human. When laughter is directed at non-humans, we may laugh, but only because we have detected some human attitude or expression.
  • Laughter has no greater foe than emotion. Emotional states like pity, melancholy, rage, etc. make it difficult for us to find humour in the things we might otherwise have laughed at. But humour also appears to serve as a coping mechanism in the face of tragedy or misfortune.
  • Laughter seems to require an echo. It is used in the context of social bonding.

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For Henri Bergson, laughter is what keeps us elastic and free

For Henri Bergson, laughter is what keeps us elastic and free

https://aeon.co/essays/for-henri-bergson-laughter-is-what-keeps-us-elastic-and-free

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Key Ideas

Humour in philosophy

  • Henri Bergson, a Fresh philosopher of the late 19th century, was also an author of a famous essay that focused on laughter. Before Bergson, few philosophers had given laughter much thought.
  • Other major thinkers who have offered humourless reflections about humour include Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, who believed we laugh because we feel superior.
  • Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer argued that comedy stems from a sense of incongruity.
  • Herbert Spencer and Sigmund Freud suggested comedians give relief from nervous energy and repressed emotions.

Humour and respect

Everyone who ever had to explain their own joke knows that comedy cannot survive analysis. Once you take humour apart, it loses its effect and dies in the process.

Henri Bergson published his essay on laughter in 1900. He believed that laughter should be studied as 'a living thing' and treated with 'the respect due to life.'

Conditions for laughter to thrive

Henri Bergson's general observations related to when laughter is most likely to appear and thrive:

  • The comic is strictly human. When laughter is directed at non-humans, we may laugh, but only because we have detected some human attitude or expression.
  • Laughter has no greater foe than emotion. Emotional states like pity, melancholy, rage, etc. make it difficult for us to find humour in the things we might otherwise have laughed at. But humour also appears to serve as a coping mechanism in the face of tragedy or misfortune.
  • Laughter seems to require an echo. It is used in the context of social bonding.

Comic captures a lack of adaptability

Social life requires a delicate adjustment of the will and a constant corresponding adaptation between members of a group.

In general, we laugh at people who are either too eccentric or too inflexible to allow for society to evolve and better itself. At the source of the comical are expressions that laughter seeks to correct.

Why we notice the comical

  • Life never repeats itself. Therefore, when there is repetition or complete similarity, we always suspect some mechanism and are potentially witnessing the comical.
  • The comedic value of body-centered humour such as toilet humour and sexual innuendo lies in the fact that our attention is suddenly interrupted from the soul to the body.
  • Much of the word-based humour consists of taking words and phrases literally that we would generally use figuratively.
  • Laughter awakens us to the rigidity of certain personality traits or behaviours, and in doing so, discourages us from becoming too settled in our own ways.

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Humor during a crisis

For ancient Greek philosophers, humor was something that had the potential to undermine authority and the good order.

Today, in democratic societies, those in power are mocked and their p...

The power of laughter
  • Humor, in a way, protects us from life's grim reality. We joke because if we didn't, we'd cry.
  • Humor and laughing are also a social vocalization that includes some and excludes others. Jokes establish who is inside the group and who is not. We laugh with people to belong, and at others to exclude.
  • In our current crises, humor is everywhere because fear is too. Laughter binds us together against a common enemy.
When to joke

Poking fun at the ills of the world is only funny if they are considered benign. No one is making memes about child abuse that may increase during periods of enforced domestic isolation.

Observations about people's behavior can be funny if they poke fun at a social norm in a relatively inoffensive way, such as hoarding toilet paper.

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It is generally considered a positive emotion and is a vital social, emotional and cognitive function. It is a communal activity that encourages bonding, reduces any possible conflict, and e...

Laughter is a Complex Emotion

The complex emotion of laughter has the power to override other emotions. The neurotransmitters (brain circuits) are controlling the facial muscles and vocal architecture, giving priority to positive emotions.

There are several brain pathways that contribute to laughter, like the regions of decision-making, behavior control, and our brains emotional circuitry.

The Underlying Neural Functions

Various studies and research have shed some light on the underlying neural functions of the brain features that result in laughter being expressed by the body.

Pseudobulbar Affect Syndrome is a condition involving an unsettling exhibition of laughter, characterized by frequent, involuntary and uncontrollable outbursts of laughing and crying. This Syndrome is due to a disconnect between the frontal pathways of the brainstem, which control emotional drives, and is associated with several disorders like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and stroke.

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